My email's been out of control for a while now. I've noticed a correlation between the state of my email and my state of mind - I don't know which way the causation flows, if any.
At the weekend (after assembling the shelves), I archived my entire inbox. Again. But I find the hard part with email bankruptcy is preventing the entire cycle recurring. This time, I was more drastic.
I deleted all my labels, and all but three of my filters. I removed the Smart Labels, the chat widget, the calendar integration, the Google+ circles (more on that soon). There are no distractions in my inbox any more. I'm forcing myself to process every non-spam email that comes to my address.
(Yes, I'm embarassed to say that I use Gmail - it seemed like a good idea at the time, because of the spam filtering. I occasionally notice bugs with ancient emails becoming unarchived or unread, and wonder if Google uses a probabilistic data structure to access all those attributes quickly enough. Can't investigate, though, because it's Gmail. Consider this the first step towards moving away.)
So rather than hiding the deluge in the background, I'm unsubscribing from a lot of mailing lists, and informing marketers that I don't want their communications. It turns out that I get a lot less email than I feared - and processing them this way means that high-traffic sources get removed first.
My remaining problem is what to do with email from mailing lists like debian-private - I don't really care enough to read everyone's vacation plans, but unsubscribing doesn't seem like the right thing either - there's (obviously) no online archive for this type of mailing list. For the moment, I've added a filter back to hide just vacation messages, but there's a more general problem lurking here.